Sermon – 1/21/18

Categories: Church,Sermons

They Followed

by Rev. Joe Connolly

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“…Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed.” — Mark 1:17-18.

I have said something like this before. I am quite sure, even if you do not have a computer and know nothing about computers, you have heard of Facebook.

I am equally sure, whether or not you fall into the aforementioned category, you have heard people complain about other people who express political opinions on Facebook. That complaint usually sounds something like this.

‘Facebook is for keeping up with my friends and family in the area and across the country. Facebook is great for posting fun pictures I’ve taken and the obligatory pictures of cats and dogs. I am simply not interested in anything else.’

I, at least tacitly, probably agree since I post my sermons on Facebook and little else. O.K.— I occasionally post a picture of a cat. (Referring to a parishioner in the congregation the pastor says:) Mary is nodding ‘yes.’

Further, my interest in politics lies in the analysis of mathematics— demographics and that kind of stuff. I, in fact, suspect my colleague the Rev. Mr. David Spiegel of the First Baptist Church, whom I greatly admire, holds a similar view, especially when it comes to what is written on one’s Facebook page. Perhaps one reason for that is David’s Bachelor’s Degree is in sociology, a field of study which relies heavily on the mathematical analysis of demographics

However, unlike what I do— post sermons on Facebook— David occasionally posts what he calls thoughts. This is what he posted last week. (Slight pause.)

‘For every expert you cite, I can find an expert who disagrees. For every study you cite, I can cite an opposing study. For every anecdote you share, I can find one that tells the opposite. For every personal experience you share, I can share one.’

‘So where does this leave us in this day of passionate stances and strongly held beliefs? It leads us to a need to listen. We need to listen to each other, listen to what our deepest values are.’

‘We need to put aside winning. Winning diminishes understanding. Winning only serves to destroy another. Ultimately, winning does not lift us as a society and a culture; it serves only to divide us further.’

‘I am naive in this regard’ David continues. ‘And I am well aware of my naivete, because I believe we can do better as a people. I have strongly held opinions. Further, I am not averse to having civil discussions centered around them.’

‘But I have no interest in winning arguments. I am more interested in finding ways to lift us all as a society. Childish rhetoric has gotten out of hand. It needs to stop if we want to be better versions of ourselves.’ [1] (Slight pause.)

Thank you, David. As I said, I greatly admire David. I am proud and happy to call David not just a colleague but a friend. (Slight pause.)

We find these words in the work commonly known as Mark. “…Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed.” (Slight pause.)

Rudolf Bultmann was one of the great theologians of the 20th Century. One of my professors, Burt Throckmorton, studied with Bultmann in Germany. Bultmann said there is a tension in Mark to which we do not pay enough attention. (Quote:) “The proclaimer becomes the proclaimed.”

But what did Jesus proclaim? Jesus proclaimed the Dominion of God is at hand. Obviously and at the same time, that Jesus is the Christ is a part of what we proclaim. Indeed, in telling the story, Mark and the early church proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.

And yet… and yet what does Jesus proclaim? Jesus proclaims the aforementioned Dominion of God which is at hand.

It seems to me (and probably to both Throckmorton and Bultmann) we can grapple with the Messiahship of Jesus more easily, more readily than what the Messiah, Jesus, actually proclaims— this Dominion of God at hand. Hence, perhaps a key to this reading is to ask what is the Messiah proclaiming about the Dominion? What’e being said? (Slight pause.)

First things first: the Gospel reading clearly presents an immediate, present-tense summons. This is, therefore, a proclamation about a new era— the presence of God as that presence is and can be experienced by humanity, the reality of that presence— and because of the reality of that presence— a reorientation of one’s life to the reality of that presence must happen.

So why do the disciples immediately leave their nets, leave their father, follow without delay? They get it. The Dominion of God, with its new era of the reality of the presence of God, is at hand. They must participate… because they get it. (Slight pause.)

I think the term “at hand” is the least understood phrase in Mark, maybe in the New Testament. You see the disciples promptly respond because of an understanding that they are a part of the immediacy of the summons.

They understand this new era involves them, their participation, their reorientation. That is what the Dominion of God being at hand means to them.

Also please notice: in the summons Jesus offers this new era is constantly unfolding, constantly happening. It is not in the past tense. Neither is it in the future tense.

The new era of the Dominion of God is always in the present tense. There is always something to do in this new era as this new era constantly unfolds.

Indeed, I think that is where the challenge both to us and for us lies. And perhaps that is also what we do not understand. The new era of the Dominion of God is not about the past, not about something which happened two thousand years ago. The new era of the Dominion of God is not about the future, not about something which will happen.

The new era of the Dominion of God is constantly happening, unfolding now, present, real, available. So the call of the Messiah, Jesus, is not simply to the disciples. Jesus calls us in the present tense, now.

And so what is the new era, the unfolding Dominion about? Perhaps that brings me back to what the Rev. Mr. Spiegel said. ‘Winning diminishes understanding, only serves to destroy another.’ Winning diminishes understanding, only serves to destroy another. I don’t think we in modern society liked to hear that. Frankly, I don’t think people who lived in Jesus’ time liked to hear that. (Slight pause.)

Let me put this another way. Perhaps when we stop trying to win it may become possible to start acknowledging one another’s hopes, fears, wishes, joys, concerns.

Let me put this another way yet again. The constantly unfolding Dominion is about how we respond to God. The constantly unfolding Dominion is, therefore, about our participation because our participation in the constantly unfolding Dominion of God is about striving to seek the will of God. (Slight pause.)

Of course, that still leaves the obvious question: ‘what is the will of God?’ I want to suggest the will of God is about freedom— freedom as God might see freedom, not freedom as we might see freedom. The will of God is about justice— justice as God might see justice, not justice as we might see justice.

The will of God is about peace— peace as God might see peace, not peace as we might see peace. The will of God is about hope— hope as God might see hope, not hope as we might see hope. The will of God is about love— love as God might see love, not love as we might see love.

And so, how might this freedom, justice, peace, hope and love as God sees freedom, justice, peace, hope and love happen? We need to remember two things which are proclaimed by Jesus, Who is the Christ, the Messiah.

First, we need to remember the Dominion is the constant presence of the reality of God. Second, we need to participate in that reality. Participation— that is what following means.

And we, therefore, need to remember that freedom, justice, peace, hope and love are not to be won. When freedom, justice, peace, hope and love are won that creates winners and losers. In God’s economy there are no winners. There are no losers. Everyone is included in God’s economy.

Hence, freedom, justice, peace, hope and love— God’s freedom, justice, peace, hope and love— are to be shared. When God’s freedom, justice, peace, hope and love are shared that is when we participate in the Dominion of God.

You see, I think one of the things we need to remember is that Jesus teaches about freedom, justice, peace, hope and love. But we need to remember at the core of that teaching is a much more basic message. God will be with us— God will be with us when we participate in the Dominion by and through the sharing of freedom, justice, peace, hope and love— this freedom, justice, peace, hope and love of God with everyone.

And when we participate in the Dominion of God then… then… the Dominion of God is truly at hand, now, present, real, available. And then also we…we… become disciples who follow. Amen.

01/21/2018
United Church of Christ, First Congregational, Norwich, New York

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “This must be my week for Facebook and Baptist pastors who are my friends on Facebook. The Rev. Dr. Susan Polizzi, formerly of the First Baptist Church of Norwich, had a post on Facebook this week. She quoted Saint Augustine of Hippo. Augustine, of course, lived in the late 4th and early 5th Century, so this Bishop from ancient times couldn’t have anything to say to us today, right? Well, this is what Augustine said: ‘No one heals one’s own self by wounding another.’ My word: I think Augustine and Throckmorton and Bultmann and Spiegel and Polizzi and Connolly are all on the same page and it’s not a Facebook page.”

BENEDICTION: Through God’s grace, by being attentive to God’s will, our deeds and our words will change our world for we will discover ways to proclaim release from the bondage or narrowness. Let us seek the God of Joy whose wisdom is our God. Let us go in peace to love and serve God. Amen.

[1] Used with permission. Lightly edited for this context. Any loss of the initial meaning is the fault of the editor.

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